My Favourite Painting: Jamie Hambro

Jamie Hambro of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association explains why he picks Low Life by Edwin Landseer.

Jamie Hambro on his choice, ‘Low Life’ by Edwin Henry Landseer

‘Landseer’s animal paintings are among my favourites, this one in particular. My childhood was full of incorrigible Jack Russells, one of which conducted several romances in the nearby village that resulted in some interesting offspring, which looked similar to Low Life.

‘He could be an old sea dog telling tales of foreign adventures or how he lost an eye in a street fight. He looks a great character whose wandering days are over and who now occupies the chair nearest the fire most of the time.’

Jamie Hambro is the chairman of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association.

Charlotte Mullins comments on ‘Low Life’

Jack Russell type stands guard outside his master’s cramped workplace. His eyes are alert, but he appears slumped against the wall, as if he has been waiting a long time. Despite the owner’s absence, we can make out his profession in the gloomy interior—from the knife on the block, the heavy boots and the straw on the floor to soak up blood, we know he’s a butcher.

Low Life was painted by Edwin Landseer in 1829. The mongrel’s lot is a far cry from that of the deerhound in Low Life’s sister painting, High Life (also in Tate’s collection). In High Life, the dog sits in a well-appointed interior, a leaded window giving on to a crenellated tower beyond. In this pairing, the working-class butcher, operating in a windowless penumbra, is contrasted with the deer-hunting aristocrat who pens letters and flies hawks.

Landseer was a hugely popular artist in his day, much loved for his paintings of dogs. He had been a child prodigy, drawing animals from a very early age, and he entered the Royal Academy Schools at 14. Unlike realist painters, such as the French artist Rosa Bonheur, he was prone to anthropomorphising his animals so they took on the attributes of their owners. Low Life’s dog, rather unoriginally called Jack, appears in an earlier etching dated 1822. He also stars in the V&A Museum’s A Jack in Office from 1833, a painting of canine hierarchy that presages George Orwell’s Animal Farm by more than a century.

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